Hacktivist collective Anonymous is known for its targeted cyberattacks on various international governments and private organisations, be it DDoSing banks, bringing down extremist terror group websites or shutting down government portals.
But how does a group that claims to be "anonymous" function effectively to promote hacktivism? How does it remain effective without a set structural hierarchy? The answers may be more complex than you think. IBTimes UK explores how Anonymous experiences and deals with power imbalances.
OpIcarus and its framework
One of Anonymous's ongoing operations is OpIcarus, which is targeting international financial institutions and the "elite 1%" for "being corrupt and greedy". The hacker group announced the launch of OpIcarus in early May in a video which claimed that the operation would last throughout the month, targeting as many international banks as possible.
While covering their operation, IBTimes UK found that Anonymous had various sub-groups like AnonGhost and Ghost Squad Hackers (GSH) that have been created by members who sought a more structural group dynamics.
According to a hacker called Voice – who claims to be a member of Anonymous – in May the group had DDoSed 67 international banks, while two stock markets – Bats and NYSE Euronext – brought down by the hacktivist collective and its numerous supporters.
Voice also claimed that the London Stock Exchange was shut down on 2 June by Anonymous affiliate MCA DDOS as part of OpIcarus and intend to keep attacking the site all day long.
Two sides of a coin
In efforts to understand the varying positions of members of Anonymous as well as its subgroups, IBTimes UK spoke to several hackers who said they are members of Anonymous, GSH or both groups.
Ghost Squad Hackers's stand
Two hackers who claim to have co-founded GSH in 2014 – S1ege and Gh0s7 – clarified their role in OpIcarus, their position in and affiliation to Anonymous. Both S1ege and Gh0s7 argued that while OpIcarus may have been initiated by Anonymous, the role GSH played and continues to play in the operation is equally vital. GSH stressed that they provided tools and training to several newer anons to aid them to participate in the campaign.
When asked what prompted them to create a separate group, S1ege responded: "We made this group to combine members of AnonGhost and other hackers around the world into one elite team focused on attacking the root of the problems including politicians, media and banks and governments that are committing atrocities on other people such as Israel."
Speaking about the reason behind creating GSH when he was already a member of Anonymous, S1ege explained: "Yes we all have roots with Anonymous. Anonymous is an idea we believe it is not a brand or a group, since literally anyone can be Anonymous, even the person reading this article. We sway from a lot of main-stream Anons due to it being infiltrated by federal agents, we don't like to consider our team Anonymous but we consider it having the exact same focus as Anonymous."
Co-founder of GSH, Gh0s7, backed up S1ege's comments about the creation of their group and said that Anoynmous is an "idea of unity and truth", while their unit is now carving out its own niche. He explained that they would "never branch out from Anonymous", simply because "anonymous is an idea so, there is nobody ordering who is or who is not anonymous".
Despite their show of unity, GSH has remained adamant that they were involved in bringing down NYSE Connect, the Bank of England and many other international central banks.
Anonymous comes clear
In efforts to corroborate GSH's claims as well as to explore the flip side, two other members of Anonymous going by the pseudonyms Op_Icarus and We Rolls The Dice said that the collective gives due credit to all of members. Voice has reaffirmed that the two are long-standing anons and are fairly well-known within the group.
When asked about the ongoing dispute with GSH about OpIcarus, We Roll The Dice said that Anonymous previously did not consider it to be a "dispute" until matters escalated. When asked what he thought prompted the "clash", he was of the view that GSH are specifically looking for credit and perhaps feel disrespected.
He claimed that since they did participate in OpIcaurs, they do deserve some credit. However, he went on to point out that since operations like these involve numerous anons working together, it is almost impossible to determine who conducted which attack, hence Anonymous credits the entire group, thereby sharing responsibility of the operation with all active members.
He also reiterated, that one of the principles Anonymous holds dear is that no one individual is credited for any attack conducted as part of an operation. The hacker indicated that he was unsure as to why any one individual would risk taking responsibility for a hack, as that would immediately make him/her the target for increased attention from the authorities.
He went on to explain that while some anons would be happy if someone else takes credit for an attack, as they would manage to escaping persecution from investigating agencies, it would be detrimental to GSH's own safety to want such attention.
These claims were backed up by Op_Icarus who also reiterated that the credit for the success of any operation, in this case OpIcarus, should go to all those who participated in the operation and is as such shared with all anons.
Nonetheless, Voice claimed that Anonymous has been in discussion with GSH in efforts to bury the hatchet and instead focus on the broader message behind the various operations that are currently active and those that will be launched in the future. "I think the achievements we have successfully gathered this month out do any bickering individual teams have had with each other. Anonymous is about unity and we will try to fix this together the same way we always have done," he said.
Editor's note: This article is not intended to credit or discredit anyone. It is an attempt by IBTimes to look into the social and cultural dynamics of the hacktivist collective – Anonymous.